Liverpool have embarked on a perfect start to the current Premier League campaign. Brendan Rodgers' Reds stand alone at the head of the division, two points clear of second-placed Chelsea, thanks to a collection of maximum points from three games, a goal in each courtesy of Daniel Sturridge and three consecutive clean sheets.
Liverpool will not get a chance to add to their tally until Monday, September 16 when they travel to the Liberty Stadium to take on Swansea City. Instead, an international break consumes the football fixtures for the next week and, from an Anfield perspective, there are four players Roy Hodgson has welcomed into his squad for England's dates with Moldova and Ukraine.
Influential captain Steven Gerrard, roaming full back Glen Johnson, clinical centre forward Sturridge and teenage talent Raheem Sterling all vie for a first-team role and, ahead of Friday's Moldova examination at Wembley Stadium, Rodgers has moved to commend Sterling.
'Raheem has looked very bright and very sharp for us,' he said, according to the club's official website.
There remains an element of paternal protectiveness on the part of Rodgers when it comes to nurturing the development of Sterling. While it was his predecessor, Kenny Dalglish, who awarded the gifted youth his first senior appearance (March, 2012), it was Rodgers who entrusted Sterling with an extended run in the first-team the following season.
For a first full season, Sterling's statistics were reasonable. At 5'7 he has an obvious disadvantage when it comes to physicality, and therefore lost the vast majority of his aerial encounters (winning 16%). Last year he was also unafraid to shoot on goal yet required improvement on his accuracy (45.5% of his shots were on target).
This, though, was offset by his 84.5% passing accuracy combined with 37 created chances from 1,748 minutes of on-pitch action (one clear cut chance produced every 47 minutes). As a point of comparison, Arsenal's Alex Oxlade Chamberlain enjoyed an 81% passing accuracy with 19 created chances from 1,062 minutes (one every 55 mins).
Statistics do not tell the whole story, however. And perhaps the manner in which he scored on an August 27 Capital One Cup tie against Notts County is the punctuation mark on his overall playing style, his potential and what he can offer as it took Raheem just four minutes to mug off two defenders before beating Bartosz Bialkowski, the Magpies shot-stopper.
'He took his goal against Notts County last week exceptionally well,' noted Rodgers, before claiming that, for a six month spell last year Sterling was 'one of the top performers in the Premier League, not just for Liverpool.'
What Sterling needs to work on, says Rodgers, is his consistency. However, management – both at club and national level – are also responsible is the player's skill-set is to be continually improved upon.
'He has shown he's capable of being here and playing at the top level. For us it's just about taking the pressure away from him. Now he has to demonstrate that ability on a daily basis and when he gets opportunities in games he needs to consistently perform. If he does that then he will have a really bright future.'
As Gerrard is an England centurion, Johnson is fast approaching 50 caps and Sturridge is a mature 23-years-old, not one of them require added attention, however, Rodgers alludes to the mishandling of Theo Walcott at the 2006 World Cup as to how a prodigiously-talented youngster should not be managed.
'Raheem is still very young and there is a nurturing process needed there, but I am sure Roy and his staff know that. I don't pick the England team. It's not a problem of mine but they will be fully aware of the implications of taking a young player and then him not playing for a number of games.
'With Roy's experience I am sure they will look after him well.'
image: © bernard-chan